Sibelius: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 5; Symphony No. 6; Symphony No. 7

COMPOSERS: Sibelius
LABELS: Finlandia
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 5; Symphony No. 6; Symphony No. 7
PERFORMER: Royal Stockholm PO/Sixten Ehrling
CATALOGUE NO: 3984-22713-2 ADD mono Reissue (1952-3)
Most Sibelians think of the Anthony Collins set of the Sibelius Symphonies with the LSO on Decca (Beulah) as being the first one-man view of the cycle. However it was preceded by an earlier survey from 1952-53 conducted by Sixten Ehrling and issued together with the Violin Concerto with Camilla Wicks and the Lemmink‰inen Legends. The latter were issued over here on the Capitol label but the symphonies did not enjoy much exposure. They appeared on Metronome in Sweden and Mercury in America, and I remember them from that time for their stylish artwork. They must be pretty rare since these transfers are painstakingly assembled not from the surviving analogue tapes but various Archive (mainly Mercury) copies of the LPs. Well, what is the special interest since neither the Stockholm Philharmonic nor the Swedish Radio Orchestra were of their present quality (I remember some pretty scruffy playing in the mid-1950s). I mention both orchestras since the original LPs speak of the ‘Stockholm Radio Symphony Orchestra’: perhaps these sessions drew on both ensembles.) Well, Sibelius himself heard and is said to have liked them even if the Karajan Philharmonia recordings of the last four and Beecham’s Sixth took precedence in his favour.

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By 1952 Ehrling was in his early thirties and had made a great impression by conducting The Rite of Spring from memory (at that time a highly unusual accomplishment) and I remember hearing him conducting a fine Salome, a work he had prepared for Bˆhm in Dresden. In the first two symphonies the playing is full of temperament though in terms of tonal finesse not the equal of the LSO for Collins. It was in the Third that Collins set the brisk tempi which became the fashion in the 1950s and 60s until Colin Davis’s Boston set. Ehrling, giving the symphony its first recording since the famous Kajanus, is altogether steadier and more reflective though he is let down by some imperfect wind intonation.The Fourth has great concentration and dedication, and in the Fifth he handles the transition between the first two movements in masterly fashion. Obviously this is not a challenge to later sets but despite its want of polish, it is an interesting supplement for Sibelians and those with a feeling for the past, from a musician of some substance. Excellent documentation.